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Dude Ranch Vacations

Updated on June 21, 2011
By National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) from USA (Draft Horse, Canvas, WV) [CC-BY-2.0 ( or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) from USA (Draft Horse, Canvas, WV) [CC-BY-2.0 ( or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

What is a Dude Ranch?

If you've ever wondered what it was like to be a rancher, but don't quite feel like buying a ranch and committing to full-time care of animals, you can still find out what the ranch life is like. Whether it's for your own curiosity, or to teach your children about honest hard work, there are ranches that will teach you the ins and outs of ranching. You will be expected to participate in the ranch and live with the ranch owners as a family.

This sounds like work, how is it a vacation?

Relaxation can come in many ways. Fresh air and habitation near animals will break from your normal life and will provide relaxation through the simple fact of not doing the same things you would typically do. In addition, although you'd be learning about ranch work, the owners will make sure you do work appropriate for your activity level and capabilities so that you do not have to feel stressed.

Additionally, many dude ranches nowadays are aware of people's needs for relaxation and function more as an attraction. These luxury dude ranches will often have play rooms, pools, and only designated activity times instead of asking guests to participate fully in the ranch experience.

By Acroterion (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Acroterion (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Activities to do at a Dude Ranch

  • Cattle Driving
  • Cow Milking
  • Horse Riding
  • Hunting
  • Camping
  • Hiking and Trails
  • Bird Watching
  • Dancing (country style)
  • Other outside activities (kayaking, fishing, woodcutting)

Why is a Dude Ranch called a Dude Ranch?

If you think a dude ranch is a place where dudes are created, it's not quite it. "Dude" wasn't always just a substitute word for a guy. In the past, a dude meant a well-dressed person. In other words, it meant a well-off city person. So when these middle or upper class folk came to the countryside, with little or no riding or hunting experience, to experience country life, dude ranches were created. Country people were willing to help the city people learn about their lives and guide them through the experiences of riding horses, caring for animals, and in some cases hunting.

Nowadays, dude ranches really just means a ranch for visitors. The historic negative connotation with the term, however, has led some ranches to start calling themselves "guest ranches".

Popularity of Dude Ranches

Dude ranches were popular in early 20th century thanks to the depictions of cowboys and their lives through movies. People were willing to dress up as cowboys and don the lifestyle - temporarily - to connect with their favorite movie characters.

President Theodore Roosevelt was also an avid fan of dude ranches. With the rising train advancements, it became fairly easy for people to travel to the country side to join these guest ranches over the summer.


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    • Rising Caren profile image

      Rising Caren 6 years ago from New York


      Thank you for the story. Dude ranches are very hospitable and I'm sure many people get over fears they may have by participating in them.

      Other than that Dude ranch in Wyoming, is there any other ranch you'd recommend?

    • profile image

      Ted Harvey 6 years ago

      My first experience on a dude ranch was Valley Ranch in Cody, Wyoming, in the early 1980s, and the first person I met was Irma Larom. She and her husband Larry started Valley Ranch in the 1920's with one of the Brooks brothers. She loved to chat with all the wranglers and tell stories of going to New York City in the 1920’s, staying at the Waldorf Hotel to talk their friends into coming out to Wyoming for the summer. At one point Irma said to me that dude ranching was hospitality at its very finest. At that time I was 17 years old and being on a dude ranch was all about riding horses every day. Her statement meant little to me then. Since that time I have come to deeply appreciate Irma's words. Horse are important, but first rate hospitality makes a dude ranch experience unforgetable.

      Historically dude ranches were part of year round horse or cattle operation. Having paying and working guests provided further income and labor for the ranches, and an opportunity for the "dudes" to "experience the west" after western expansion had largely drawn to a close. Nowadays ranches may be working cattle ranches or ranches strictly catering to guests. As they did in the past, they still provide a great opportunity to see the west and experience western lifestyle. And every ranch has the ability to affect people in profound ways.

      A couple of years ago I had a woman from Scotland as a guest. When she made her reservation she sent me a hand written letter about why she wanted to take this vacation. Several years earlier she had a bad accident with a horse and broke her back. She had not been on a horse since, and on this trip she was hoping to get her confidence back. By the end of the week I had her on loping rides and she was talking about buying another horse when she got home. When it was time to check out she came to me in tears saying that she couldn’t thank us enough for giving her back her confidence and her true love for horses.

      Yes, a well run dude ranch is “Hospitality at its very finest,” and this means everyone working on a well run ranch goes that extra mile to take 7 year old Sally out to the corral one last time to say goodbye to her horse; the cooks saying, “No problem…we are happy to take care of special requests"; and people leaving feeling well-cared for, relaxed, more connected to what matters to them, and wanting to come back.